Our theology is not God!

"Theology & God" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Theology & God” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward


This is the Christian theological spin on the fact that our thoughts are not reality and that the word is not the thing. Our thoughts about God are not God.

In fact, the world is a projection of our thoughts. If this is true then our god is a projection of our thoughts as well. Our theological words articulate our thoughts about our god, not that which is beyond them.

I remember the first time I read Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans many years ago. It rocked my world because the infinite qualitative distinction between God and mankind is the thrust of Barth’s theology. Even though he modified this later in his life to become what I think is a more unified idea, it still represented the cornerstone of his contribution to Christian theology and Church dogmatics.

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52 Replies to “Our theology is not God!”

  1. Excellent point David,

    And consistent with not trusting in your own understanding.

    I like the way you made the distinction between “God” and “our god”. In support of that, If God becomes about our thoughts about God then God ceases to be God and we have created a god in the image of our thoughts – a golden calf.

    One of the outcomes of being at theological college for me is my belief changing form thinking I knew it all to knowing that however much I do know, it is minuscule theologically and in other ways to everything that can be known.

    All the status, degrees, life experience, how popular I am etc won’t change that one true, objective and indefatigable fact.

  2. You know, David, this appears a relatively new mantra for you:

    “The world is a projection of our thoughts”

    Like all aphorisms, it is easy to abuse.
    And this aphorism is the fodder of many gurus, cults and new age religious groups. Many Buddhist and Hindu groups adhere to this mantra — this quick easy answer for everything. This ready dismissal of any deep conversation.

    It is a version of epistemological “idealism” with all its obvious pitfalls. It even hints of ontological idealism.

    I recommend staying away from such simple formulas due to their tendency of abuse.

    I find when even when people leave their religions, the don’t give up many of the bad habits of the religious mind — and one of those is seeking easy answers, quick summaries, instant wisdom.


    Of course subjectivity plays into all perceptions. But to dismiss and increased certainty of workable knowledge because of that is wrong.

    Certainly my view of you is subjective and limited, but if we get a bunch of peoples’ reports, history of your jobs and much more information, we come closer to knowing you much better.

    But as far as a god or a mythical beast goes, the task becomes a double layer of confusion. Just because our minds are limited, doesn’t mean we have to say, “Sure, XYZ could be there too.” And let in any XYZ.
    Evidence, and lack of evidence should count for something.

    We have lots of cults that make claims that can not be tested and which shut down members who doubt by using the mantra of “the world is a projection of our minds/thoughts”,

    “God” is an abstraction to start with. “God” has no reasonable working definition. So building belief networks around that (read: theology) is going to be weird — not because they are projections of mind, but because their is not god that they can experience or test. It is pure fantasy.

    This “Reality is a Projection of Mind” is one of the most popular anti-science, anti-intellectual aphorisms out there. It is the tool of many gurus and New Age nonsense. People love it. They can say, “See, we really can’t know. So my nonsense is as good as yours.” Arghhh.

  3. Sabio: You said “This ready dismissal of any deep conversation.” But from the length of your comment, apparently not. 😉

    But seriously, you have a fine way sometimes of really insulting me in a very condescending way. I’m not sure you mean to do it because I think you are a kind person. I will admit that I, like all humans, can tend to say things oversimplified. But I try to say what I say with integrity born out of what I’ve experienced and discovered. Just because what I say may trigger something in you that sounds like something someone else said does not necessarily mean I am saying what you think I’m saying. If you really think I’m trying to parrot aphorisms and New Age nonsense then… well… I’m a little baffled that you would assume that.

    So, yes, you’re right, your interpretation is subjective. Of course all interpretations are. But I think this one is unfair.

  4. I have an idea — but it needs a drawing.
    I will take some time, draw it and share it.
    I think it will better make my point.
    Then you can agree with it or not agree with it. It may facilitate conversation.

    David, of course I am not attacking you personally, I am attacking an idea, a mantra and the problems with it. I have seen you use it several times as an easy answer for complex issues. It is a classic mantra in mystic circles but it comes with tons of problems.

    Anyway, I hope my up-coming drawing helps illustrates one such problem and facilitates conversation without things being taken personal.

  5. Oh, I didn’t hear the challenge to the idea. I just heard you say I was “condescending” and “insulting”. I didn’t hear you address the content of what I wrote.

    So I will draw a picture to illustrate that content.

  6. Agreed, David about not interpreting your cartoon about being anti-intellectual. If one were to be anti-intellectual, one would not either value one’s own theological education and/or engagement with Bath’s theology.

    I look back in fondness to both but my thoughts about that are not the “reality” or “the thing” as you rightly point out. My thoughts are my thoughts about what is the reality and thing and my thoughts are about me, not God.

    Sabio mentioned “confusion” interestingly the conclusion Derrider comes to also as to what happens as a result of the process of deconstruction. For reasons best known to Derrider, basing his thesis on the narrative about the destruction of the tower of Babel as a result of God’s judgement on mankind. Derrider then in turn doing deconstruction on the word “Ba Bel” that is “city of God” to deconstruct the word “God” as being an assignment of confusion.

    Therefore David as you have rightly pointed out the question of God’s existence must then come into play in thoughts about God. However, as you rightly now say, thoughts about God are not God.

    So then it comes back yo what you rightly talk of with two sides of the coin. God exists or doesn’t exist in the minds of humans through freedom of choice and thought. But that is about humanity and not about God.

    What it cannot be is that God can exist and not exist at the same time. This is putting it simply.

    All the flowery intellectual language and word play, interesting as it is to engage with it cannot conflate or distract from this basic objective and indefatigable fact with any credibility.

  7. @ Adam,
    Since I tire of your repeating your complaints about ” God exists or doesn’t exist”, I wrote a post to clarify.
    Click here How can a god both exist and not exist.

    @ David: I have the other drawing coming soon, but this drawing was needed first. I think the two will fit together. I apologize ahead of time, but they are both simple.

  8. Oh, looking at my diagram, I would say that (without all kinds of caveats and speaking broadly) that David sort of believes in a type 1 god, while adam in a type 2 god. Is that close?

  9. Sabio, I, like David, believe you to be a kind person. Although I think David has a kinder way of communicating with you. I, perceive, am a little more direct, possibly my military experience influencing how I communicate, possibly not.

    It is interesting to me that you define my statement that is in indefatigable objective fact that God either exists or does not exist as a “complaint”. I regard that description as a lack of respect for the intellectual integrity and process that I have given evidence of in coming to that conclusion.

    If David has any thoughts regarding what he says I would be interested. “Nakedpastor David Hayward January 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm
    Two sides of same coin: either God is everywhere or God is nowhere. Same with the spirit of Christ.”

    Nevertheless, thank you for at least on this occasion for an element of respect in retaining the uppercase “G” in God and not replacing it with lowercase.

    Where I will go on this occasion in keeping with what I have said about being stronger with you is to choose to disengage with discussion about this issue of non(existence) while disrespect is shown by you to the intellectual process I have taken.

    I offer the hand of a “spirit of brotherhood”. Imperative to that, for me, is mutual respect.

    My guess would be that you would like to categorise just as you have David down as a “cultural Christian” hand “honourary Christian” and “honourary atheist”. I think you would do with me is classify as a “biblical Christian” and wish to engage as such. My theology evolves and changes almost on a daily basis, so good luck with trying to catergirse me!

    I, first and foremost am Adam, a fellow human being. As mentioned before I don’t want to be treated as a “less tolerable biblical Christian” as opposed to a “more tolerable cultural Christian”. What you do or don’t tolerate is about you. I want to be loved and treated with respect. Article 1 of the UDHR might, I suggest be a place to start with me if conversation with me is to be profitable.

    I would conclude that saying I cannot for sure convince you that God does exist and that he loves you beyond imagination, wanting and enabling you to have the fullest life possible. You on the other hand cannot convince me that “god” does not exist and there is objective and indefatigable clear evidence of the non-existance of an all powerful, all benevolent god. So I suggest that we respect each others spiritual journey with this and welcome the reality that there is difference in our perceptions.

    What I think we can agree on is love, and the god of the “act of God” by insurance companies does not exist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOvI9jdNV3I

  10. Right, so with that, you can escape the questions of:
    — Should we depend on a god to heal our children
    — Should we trust the revelations of a god to rule our country
    — Should we trust a god to keep our children safe
    — Should I listen to a guru because he/she knows god better than I do

    You see, if there is not intervening god, the answer to all these is “no”. But if truth is “beyond the thought and the word.” there is no need to worry about such things. Conversation ends.

    The new god becomes “that which is beyond thought and word” — argghhhh !

  11. @ Adam:

    Zeus is a god, Jesus is a god, Yahweh is a god, Krishna is a god, Allah is a god. Lots of gods. All deserving small “g’s”. But all the believers in these gods claim there god deserves is a big G. Of course they do.

    Disrespect? Yeah, probably. Not for the person, but for a horrible idea.

  12. Thanks Maura! I appreciate it.

    Sabio: in a sense we agree, but I don’t see the need for what comes across as hostility. I mean, on the one hand I get it… horrible idea. But on the other hand this is something we humans do… think, imagine, create. But I do believe, perhaps naively, that our theologies and philosophies developed as attempts to describe the indescribable and mysterious.

  13. But Sabio you know fine well that in Christianity God is defined in the person Jesus. So it is disrespect for the person. Anyone could disrespect your mother and it wouldn’t be disrespectful to you directly. It is a complement to Christianity that for many Christians it will not be the case that you or a member of your family will be treated with respect in spite of your ridiculing of those with different belief to you. .I am not surprised you are feeling tired. It must be tiring for you to keep this up.

    Try speaking as you do about “religion” towards with Islam in Saudi Arabia and being tired with the interaction you have with others will be the least of your concerns.

  14. The “hostility” (I’d rather say “directness”) is toward bad ideas, not people.

    You are assuming there is this one thing which has the traits of “indescribable and mysterious”. Sure, we all agree that some things are mysterious (hard to understand) — often because they don’t have enough knowledge, sometimes because nobody has enough knowledge. And similarly some things are “indescribable”. But to jump that these are coming from ONE thing, is a huge jump.

    And studies of history and theology show how theologies develop largely to address social needs — I do think it is naive to think they are really just attempts to describe your ONE thing. They are constructed under that pretense — even if subconsciously.

    Lots of things are indescribable and mysterious — why use a god to homogenize all the mystery, awe and unknown. See my pic here: “Homogenizing Reality with God

  15. To clarify Sabio you are showing disrespect personally to me not because of an “idea” but toward my spiritual journey as explained. It’s also a disrespect to anyone to read your bog and see “That person, even after I corrected them, still took that to mean that I said, “God both exists and does not exist” — yeah, right!” If they know you are referring to them. I have no idea whether “that person” you are referring to is me or someone else.

    I suspect (though I can’t be sure) this was your response to my earlier comment:

    “Adam Julians January 7, 2016 at 8:13 am
    I would be interested if you could explain why you have made two assertions in this thread that may seem to contradict each other to some.

    Namely :

    1. That “your god certainly does exist ” (Jesus and therefore God of the Bible) and

    2. “the evidence is clearly in” of the non-existance of an all powerful and benevolent “god “.


    So – do you remain to claim that you are not showing disrespect to the person – (either Jesus or me) and would you care to answer my earlier question? .

  16. Nah I don’t think so Sabio. Whether there is ONE thing beyond our thoughts and words or VARIOUS… this is still what I am interested in. I treasure thoughts and love language, but they can only get us so far. What is or are beyond these… is this possible to know? This is my question.

  17. @ David

    Right, David. Some indeed do claim to KNOW what is unknowable and beyond description. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Those are the ones that come up with aphorisms like “don’t confuse the pointing finger for the moon”, “reality is a projection of our thoughts”, “we must know the unknowable”, “God is beyond our understanding, but through Jesus we can know God.” and so much more.

    To me, it is common sense to say that much is very hard to understand, much is unknown, and more. And of course I have undescribable emotions — words are naturally limited (everyone knows that). But that does not necessitate the invention of a god, the divine, buddha nature or a cosmic matrix. I like to keep my world more complex and not distilled to ONE thing. There is no reason to think there is ONE thing. And certainly not an intervening, all-loving, all powerful, miracle working invisible thing.

    Yeah, treasuring awe, wonder, friendship, love, laughter and such is something all of us can do without trying to claim it all comes from some mysterious ONE.

    BTW, when I transitioned out of Christianity, I embraced a form of Judaism for a year and then Theistic Mysticism and then … I understand the temptation to hold on to some notion of ONE after all the investment. I get it. My transitions happened decades ago, though.

    Since I have grown comfortable with the Many, with real people, with complex emotions and such.
    Heck, maybe there is ONE, but I if so, it don’t care about me, my kids nor anyone else — clear as day, that one.

    What is beyond words and thought — lots of fun stuff.

  18. You see Sabio, when you say “I understand the temptation to hold on to some notion of ONE after all the investment. I get it.” you make it sound like you’ve arrived and are more advanced than any of us here, when I would suggest we are all impressed with our own thoughts. All of us.

  19. Oh, btw David, you said:

    “Whether there is ONE thing beyond our thoughts and words or VARIOUS… this is still what I am interested in.”

    Well, it is obvious that there are innumerable things (VARIOUS) beyond thoughts and words. I guess you are just wondering if there is one supreme thing behind them and behind all the knowable stuff.

    And if so, why do you care? If I may ask?
    Is it because you think that “knowing” this unknowable or communing with this “indescribable ONE” or some such thing leads to more meaning or happiness than if you don’t?

  20. Well, I get the temptation. But heck, maybe it is not a temptation, maybe it is the truth — there is indeed a shining ONE waiting for all of us to see so to be wiser, happier and more filled with meaning. Maybe I am wrong.

  21. Sabio,

    You worte:

    “Yeah, treasuring awe, wonder, friendship, love, laughter and such is something all of us can do without trying to claim it all comes from some mysterious ONE… Heck, maybe there is ONE”.

    OK so we can enjoy all these things you talk of – agreed. How about enjoying the journey acknowledging that “ONE” cannot indefatigably and objectively be proven to exist or not exist and part of the “wonder” and “awe” than can be experienced is being open to either and respecting differences when they come up?

  22. Does anyone remeber this song “We can thank our lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we like to think we are”

  23. It is so cool that people stay open minded and enjoy the journey in their awe, wonder and love for:
    – Elvis
    – Amida
    – Big Foot
    – Jesus
    – Aliens snatching humans
    – Krishna
    – Astrological influences
    and so much more …

    None of these can be proven false or not to exist.
    I guess I must respect the belief in anything that meets these criterion.
    But it leaves me so confused — how should I choose?
    So many options.

    Does anyone remember this song: “Poor Me

  24. Oh that’s going back a bit with Adam Faith! I thought I was old ;).

    Confusion about what to choose Sabio? If you are being ironic with that I would say Ohhh I don’t know pin all the names on a dartboard and throw a dart perhaps.

    If it was a genuine question then I would ask first of all – why the assumption that there there is a need to choose? And then I guess if you would affirm that there is indeed a need to choose all I can do by way of answering that is again to share about the epiphany I had with the word “choice” at a time of my own confusion and frustration with having everything I needed, always wanting more and like Mick Jagger I con’t get no satisfaction. For me it resulted in the choice I have shared previously. It hasn’t made life easier and in some ways life has become harder but now I have contentedness and peace, satisfaction and fulfillment with gratitude.

    I hope that helps?

  25. Nah, I wasn’t asking, Adam. It was rhetorical, of course.

    I’ve heard dozens of anecdotal testimonies very similar to yours in many contradictory faiths.
    Indeed, I use to have one.
    Remember, I use to be Christian, I know the standard stuff.
    Happy your god works for you.

  26. Hahaha! Wow!! Sometimes the simplest of drawings can cause ‘such’ discussions.

    As an outsider to this discussion I felt that each party got the opportunity to put forward their points of view and those were acknowledged by all others. Also the discussions were intellectually stimulating. My personal thanks to all participants for that.

    That’s what I LOVE about this blog.

    THANKS DAVID and everyone who participates here.

  27. Thanks for letting me know that Sabio. Rhetorical meaning ridiculing then.

    I echo your sentiment David.

  28. I read Sabio’s comment, “Heck, maybe there is ONE, but I if so, it don’t care about me, my kids nor anyone else — clear as day, that one.”

    I think that is a key thought – the apparent lack of care/concern from a God.

    Sabio’s other statement is also key to me: “And if so, why do you care? If I may ask? Is it because you think that “knowing” this unknowable or communing with this “indescribable ONE” or some such thing leads to more meaning or happiness than if you don’t?”

    I do have great difficulty with the first thought – after all, my brother in law died of cancer in early 2014, when he cared for 3 natural children and 11 adopted ones. I, on the other hand, lived through a disease that kills about 50% of those infected…. later in the summer of 2014. And I certainly never poured out myself day and not for the sake of many adopted children.

    Why did my BIL die? Why did I live? The situation seems far too capricious.

    Yet, when I don’t commune with God, I am not at peace. When I do, I am at peace. From this peace flows trust in Him.

    The question for me has become: How does a person hold to faith in God with the tension of the injustice that is seen, versus the need for trusting the One that is unseen?

    Yet, I walk within that tension every day… and I am ok with it.

    There is tension in my mind; yet there is peace within my mind, as well. Living with both tension and peace has created a sense of ‘keeping both eyes open’ (rather than shutting one eye or the other).

  29. sigh… “And I certainly never poured out myself day and NIGHT for the sake of many adopted children”.

    apologies for the typo…

  30. That was beautiful Caryn. Thanks for sharing.

    I concur with what you say about peace and tension, being in communion with God resulting in peace when not, peace not being there.

    It seems Sabio is doing what fundamental atheists do with irony and equating God to belief in leprechauns, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and the spaghetti monster. I understand this is one approach. I understand others don’t understand if God exists why he allows so much suffering to happen.

    Two common ways of going about things.

    Once what is happening is established, I find that it’s easy to know how to engage in dialogue and where there is evidence of respect shown or not, do so accordingly.

  31. The last thing I will say about Sabio on this thread is quote from when he was showing respect.

    Sabio Lantz January 6, 2016 at 7:55 am “Thanks for sharing, Adam… you are inspired… your god certainly is not dead… I have [a]… friend… For her heart’s sake, I wish she’d drop the “God is horrible” mantra and stick with “God does not exist” — for indeed, her god does not exist. He is not dead, he never existed… If it works for you, it exists”

    So it works for you it exists – God is working for you and I Caryn, clearly. So with Sabios logic, “it” exists. Yet he says his friend’s “god” (the same God) does not exist.

    So being someone who is “inspired” in Sabios eyes. I would challenge the assertion he has made on his blog “That person, even after I corrected them, still took that to mean that I said, “God both exists and does not exist” — yeah, right!”

    I would suggest “that [inspired] person” i.e. me was accurate, that Sabio did indeed say God both exists and does not exist by simple evidence above. I would suggest that there is congnitive dissonance in that and that Sabio is coping with that congitive dissonance by doing what fundamental atheists do with likening following Jesus to a belief in Santa Claus and the spaghetti monster.

    Sabio has said that he is “tired” with what he calls my “complaining”.

    I suggest Sabio prepare himself to become more tired through interaction with me and anyone who is of sound mind and reason who engages in discussion and debate in a “spirit of brotherhood” on this and similar issues.

  32. @ Caryn,

    You clearly see, as do most people (except the most fortunate), that there is not benign, all-loving, all-powerful being that cares for our physical or financial well-being — we are no different than roadkill for that matter. (see my Road Kill Theology post).

    But you feel peace when you pray/commune with the notion of “God” in your head — for certainly you don’t talk or do things together as most people in real relationships do. So maybe there is some Monkey god (see my post here on that here) — that Monkey god offers psychological strength but does not act in the world.

    Many Christians feel their god still acts in the word by healing people, giving money, helping safeguard trips, guiding on important decisions and such. But I see that you realize that does not happen. Indeed, not surprisingly, studies show it does not happen. So you are a different sort of Christian and that is great. As I have written elsewhere, my favorite sorts of Christians are those who really don’t believe what Jesus or Paul said.

    So your flavor of Christianity is all fine and good. I understand your claim of feeling peace by praying to your god. But I also know people that get incredible peace by playing music — I am thinking of an atheist violinist friend.

    So I am very supportive of practices you do that give you peace– be it gardening, violin, praying to a god, meditating, or kick boxing. And if imagining a god as real helps, I see that such a god is real to you.

    And if your religious ideas see no different fate for me or my children after death even if we don’t believe in or pray to your god, I also respect your religion more.

    If anyone finds these statements above to be condescending, rude, disrespectful, and think I should state things differently, then they are asking me to lie when I tell what I think.

    [btw, you can tell I am ignoring Adam’s rants]

  33. Lol yes of course my comments were “rants “, Sabios last comment wasn’t a rant and nothing of what he wrote about that was disrespectful, condescending etc to me.

    I can do irony too 😉

    Want to give it another go Sabio?

  34. Ooops, forgot those links: (if your read the “Monkey God” post, David, you will understand. Remember, “Monkey God” is not an offense in other cultures, just this one that looks down on monkeys — parochialism strikes again.)

    (1) Roadkill Theology

    (2) Monkey God vs. Cat God

    oh, and as a special add, see this You Tube clip showing the problem with so many gods in so many heads: Do you know god — a look at all those theologies out there, and everyone claiming to know God (the one with a capital “G”).

  35. Theists can be so, so sensitive. Check out that video, David (“Do you know god”) for a perfect illustration of Theist sensitivity. Maybe we need a e-pamphlet posted on NP on “How to be Politically Correct when talking to Theists”. But it would involve so many rules when talking to Scientologists, Elephant-headed Ganesh worshippers, burnt-flesh-loving Yahweh followers, and Allah who hates images. Geez, too much to tip-toe around theists. Lots of graffiti material there — but be careful of the religious censoring.

  36. OYg (Oh Your god), have you read the news — say something offensive to a theist and see what happens.

    Wait, you are right, I wrote (and made a funny picture) here about how Thailand’s King’s is a sensitive subject.

    So tell me, David, how would you have me written differently to Caryn, while still being honest and not hiding the elephant in the room?

  37. Are you not talking with me any more Sabio? OK I guess I’ll talk with David then.

    David, I like and find your point interesting about “I treasure thoughts and love language, but they can only get us so far. What is or are beyond these… is this possible to know?”

    Would you like to unpack that any?

  38. Hmmmmm… I am not insulted by the concept of the Monkey God, by the way.

    If I had not been exposed to Western Christianity, I am not sure how I would have described the God that I commune with. Possibly as a comforting cat, and protecting dog… lol.

    And, I appreciate Sabio’s journey. When I gave up on having a relationship with God (for about 12 to 13 years), I retained the concept of God as described by Western Christianity. But I had no desire to commune with Him.

    Sabio was, in many ways, braver than me. He experimented with multiple spiritual paths, and found them all lacking for his needs. I ceased to experiment during that time period.

    And… as David’s original cartoon showed… theology is expressed in words… and simply cannot capture a full description of god, his/her ways, and so forth.

    My core theology is currently expressed by me in silent worship and adoration. I have found words too limiting at this point in my journey.

  39. I like reading your comments Caryn,

    To me it’s as if you are applying a healing, calming balm when you share.

    What you talk of with “silent adoration” is not too different to my experience with meditation. Maybe that’s it, maybe you are onto something with what you say about words. That seems to be to compliment what David is saying about thoughts/language and asking what is or are beyond these.

    With Sabio I empathise to a degree. I can recall being similar at times. However when a line is crossed then my military background I engage in battle with a minimum amount of force to achieve an objective. In this case communication in “a spirit of brotherhood”. The offer is still there for Sabio any time he wants that. David’s latest cartoon is interesting with Jesus waiting at the door. I guess it’s the gentlemanly thing to model similar and leave other’s to decide if they want to open the door metaphorically speaking.

    I hope Sabio finds his needs met in whatever way best meets them.

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